Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Fringe 2011 Review: I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe

Posted by metaphorical on 28 August 2011

I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe
1h 20m
VENUE #17: Manhattan Theatre Source
Performance seen: Fri 26 @ 2:45

Rating: 10
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

I don’t know how Dawson Nichols came up with the show “I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe” but it’s fun—and might even be integral to its experience—to wonder that he did.

“I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe” apparently started life as a fully-cast radio drama, but as a one-man show it opens with a man writhing on the floor while reciting a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. He stops to chat a bit with the audience, leading to the moment when he utters the title phrase. “Oh,” he continues, “I know I’m not Edgar Allan Poe. Edgar Allan Poe is dead. I’m not Edgar Allan Poe.” And yet. It’s not the hesitation of an irrational person unsure he’s not Edgar Allan Poe. It’s that of a rational person presented by a strange set of circumstances that are best explained by a hypothesis he knows must be false. Plato asks in “The Republic” how a just man can live in an unjust polis. So too, how can a man be rational when he has the bad fortune to inhabit an irrational corner of the universe.

“I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe” inspires just such philosophical thoughts—on madness, reality, and the power of art to get under the skin of an entire culture and stay there for 150 years. It’s impossible to listen to “The Tell-Tale Heart”—and yes, in the most forceful moments of a tour de force performance, Craig Mathers recites all of “The Tell-Tale Heart”—without remembering having read it, even if it were years and years ago.

As he does, the barriers between artist and art begin to dissolve. Remember back to the story. Madness is expressed with such power and intimacy that it’s impossible not to wonder how the author could be other than mad himself. We have been wondering for half the play whether its central character is other than mad, and as he recites it— even though, within the context of the play, it isn’t mad to be doing so—the equivalent question about him becomes insistent, and then finally answered.

The miracle of the play is that for a moment we even wonder this about the playwright. For a moment—just for a moment, but for that one long moment—madness is expressed with such power and intimacy by “I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe” that we wonder, how the author could be other than mad himself? This is powerful theatre.

We never wonder that about Mathers himself; indeed, it’s a tribute to his acting abilities that we never question his sanity. He is, instead, a perfect vessel for 80 minutes of fine madness.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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